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News in Brief: The week in HR – It’s s’no’w fun for workers


Catch up on the week in HR including: apprenticeship figures exceed target, UK lags Europe in ‘engagement’ stakes, Scrooge traits rub off on the big boys, why it’s s’no’w fun for workers and why Brown is in the spotlight for rejecting the long-awaited Turner report on pensions.

W/C 21/11/05
Chancellor rejects long-awaited pension plan
Gordon Brown has been accused of pension sabotage, reports the BBC.

In response to Adair Turner’s long-awaited pensions report, Brown is alleged to have opposed raising the state pension age to pay for restoring the pensions-earnings link.

Last October, Adair Turner, former Confederation of British Industry boss revealed a pension shortfall of £57 billion a year brought about by a population that lives longer and slowing birth rates.

According to the BBC, Brown has even written to Lord Turner to correct one of his financial assumptions, saying he ‘should not assume’ the link between the pension credit and earnings ‘will continue beyond 2008.’

The implication say the BBC is that Turner has got his figures wrong and that his proposals will be much more expensive than his report suggests.

For the full story and more on the political fall-out see: BBC

Apprenticeship figures exceed target
The number of apprentices in Britain has risen by 16.7% since last year, according to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

Latest figures from the LSC indicate a total of 176,631 16-to 21-year-olds joined apprenticeship schemes in 2003-04, compared with 151,363 in the previous year. The increase is ahead of the government’s annual target of 175,000.

The number of drop-outs has also fallen. Almost 40% of apprentices completed their course in 2003-04, compared with just 24% in 2001-02.

Chris Banks, Chairman of the Learning and Skills Council said: “Meeting this target is only the beginning. There is a great deal of work ahead as we move on to a new challenge; that is to ensure that more and more young people successfully complete the apprenticeships they start.”

The LSC is now working towards a target of increasing the number of apprentices who complete their course by 75%, from a figure of 43,243 in 2002 /03 to 75,675 in 2007/08.

In 2005/06 four sectors have been highlighted for urgent action, healthcare, child care, construction and hospitality.

Two-thirds of staff offered no training
Three-quarters of UK employees are not given opportunities to progress and 67% are not offered opportunities for training and development, a new survey suggests.

Statistics in a YouGov poll, commissioned by Jack Morton Worldwide, suggest that a substantial part of the workforce could be unmotivated.

While on average only 17% described themselves as unhappy at work, more than a quarter (26%) of those polled felt that their employer did nothing to inspire or encourage them to continue working in their employment.

And despite employment terms, such as proposed changes to paternity terms and the issue of availability of flexible working conditions, only 9% of employees feel that they were offered good maternity and paternity terms and only 28% were offered flexible working conditions.

The most satisfied workers can be found in Wales, where 26% are very happy with their jobs and the least are in the South East where 23% are unhappy. To ensure happiness at work, it emerges that the best industry to work in is energy and mining.

UK lags Europe in ‘engagement’ stakes
Workers in the UK are far less engaged with their employers than their counterparts across Europe.

These are the findings according to research undertaken by Watson Wyatt who blame the lack of enthusiasm on the poor perception associated with development opportunities.

Its Work Europe 2005 survey found that just 12% of employees in the UK could be described as ‘fully engaged’ with their business, compared to 36% of Swiss workers, 24% of Irish and 18% of German.

Joining the British on the lower rungs are the Italians. At just 9% engagement they were found to be less engaged than their UK counterparts.

Andrew Cocks, European head of employee research at Watson Wyatt commented: “Lack of employee engagement is not just an issue for HR professionals. Our research shows that it can hit the bottom line hard and is likely to put UK employers at a significant disadvantage to their European competitors. It therefore has to be seen as a fundamental business issue that affects everyone.”

The research suggests that the development opportunities can have as much pull as providing satisfactory base pay.

Other factors, say Watson Wyatt, that influence engagement include providing employees with the reasons behind major decisions, levels of trust in senior management and confidence in the company’s long-term business success.

EDS settles Tax Credits claim for £71m
HM Revenue & Customs this week accepted £71.25m from Electronic Data Systems (EDS) to settle its claim for compensation for the problems caused by EDS’s computerised Tax Credit administration system.

Paymaster general Dawn Primarolo announced the settlement in a written statement issued to Parliament on Tuesday, which added: “Details of the settlement are commercially sensitive and therefore bound by a legal confidentiality agreement as is normal in agreements of this nature.”

When the new credits were introduced in 2003, thousands of claimants were left without payments because of flaws within the computerised processing system. According to Parliamentary ombudsman Ann Abrahams, “systematic maladministration” resulted in difficulties for 1.9m families.

At the time the new system was introduced, it could not cope with the numbers of Revenue staff logging on and was reported to crash daily as a result of the workload.

For more on this story see: AccountingWEB

Benefits system wide open to error and fraud, says audit office
The UK’s benefits system is too complicated and vulnerable to high levels of error and fraud, according to a National Audit Office report.

About 30 million people in the UK receive at least one benefit or a pension and the report ‘Dealing with the Complexity of the Benefits System’ says that years of changes in legislation has left the system overly complex.

It estimates that last year around £2.6 billion was lost through a combination of fraud and human error.

The report said: “There is almost universal agreement that complexity exists and is perceived as a problem, and in the National Audit Office’s opinion, it is perhaps one of the most important issues impacting on the performance of the department.”

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, added: “There is a balance to be struck between a system which is detailed enough to respond to needs and yet straightforward enough to be run efficiently, communicating clearly with customers and minimising error. This balance has not yet been reached.”

The Department for Work and Pensions runs around 40 benefits and the report said the department had made progress in trying to simplify the system.

For more on this story see: AccountingWEB

Scrooge traits rub off on the big boys
Small businesses are more likely to display generosity towards employees in the festive season than larger businesses.

These are the findings according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) annual Reward Management 2006 survey.

Three-quarters of firms employing up to 49 staff pay for a Christmas party, while 13% provide a gift. By contrast, only two-fifths of firms employing over 5,000 staff provide for a party and just 2% give a gift.

Charles Cotton, CIPD Reward and Employment Conditions Adviser, said: “Size is certainly something that matters when it comes to Christmas. Smaller firms are far more likely to behave like Santa and dish out presents and parties.

“But Christmas gifts alone will not prevent employees from leaving. Employers should consider reward throughout the working year, thinking creatively and selecting a strategy relevant to both the business and employees needs in order to retain and motivate employees.”

Small businesses, says Cotton can win over employees by focusing efforts on non-financial rewards such as being a good employer and providing a nice place to work. Something he says that big businesses often overlook.

The results indicate that 64% of employers meet the majority or most of the cost of a Christmas party or lunch. However, only 13% now provide a Christmas gift such as a hamper or vouchers.

Pre-employment training cuts time-wasting
Learning solutions provider, Thomson NETg is calling on businesses to get graduates up to speed before they start employment.

According to the firm, an entire week is wasted getting graduates up to speed. Thomson NETg suggest a pre-training programme including an introduction to the basics of the job including desktop skills and office inductions.

“Graduate intakes form the lifeblood of many companies as they bring fresh skills and spirit to the work environment,” said Mike Summers, director of Thomson NETg.

“However, they come to the corporate world crammed with business theory but minimal real-life work experience.

It’s no surprise that this is a shock to the system and can lead to an induction period that takes far longer than many employers would hope for.”

Pay Awards honour Kate Upcraft
Kate Upcraft has won the Strathearn Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 11th annual Pay Awards.

As well as having held senior posts within industry including Head of Payroll for Marks and Spencer, Upcraft was one of the key lobbyists to the government during her tenure as Policy and Research Manager for the IPPM.

Cathy O’Conner of St’Helen’s Council was awarded Payroll manager of the year, Catriona Hatton of Northgate HR won Payroll employee of the year while Esther Haughton of Fexco took home the award for Payroll student of the year award.

The best payroll team award went to Leicester City Council. KCS won software provider of the year for the fifth year in a row, and The Accounting Centre won outsourcing provider of the year.

Royal Bank of Scotland won the Payroll Giving Award for the third consecutive year, which recognises the achievements made by employers and their payroll departments in setting up payroll giving schemes.

The annual event, hosted by Pay Magazine took place on Monday 14 November at the Park Lane Hotel.

Blogging dangers surface
Failure to guide employees on the expected codes of conduct for internet blogging is putting 91% of businesses at risk.

This is the claim of FAST Corporate Services who discovered that just 9% of the 100 businesses quizzed had policies in place advising staff on how to conduct themselves on internet blogs.

And according to Intelliseek, there are an estimated 40,000-50,000 new blogs created every single day showing the extent of the problem.

Companies as diverse as Waterstone’s and Delta Airlines have dismissed employees for bringing their organisations into disrepute. A blogger employed by the bookshop criticised his boss, while the air hostess published pictures of herself in uniform within her blog.

Chris Minchin, membership manager at FAST Corporate Services commented: “In both of these cases, the damage was done and the companies involved were forced to take drastic action.”

FAST Corporate Services recommends that companies protect themselves by implementing a comprehensive blogging policy to prevent staff from making damaging remarks about their employers online.

“A specific policy will contain guidelines on ensuring that bloggers do not say anything negative about the company, that they safeguard sensitive company information and that they take all responsibility for the content of their blog,” said Chris Minchin.

“Finally, it should give the company the right to take legal action as a last resort if the policy is not adhered to,” he added.

It’s s’no’w fun for workers
Over half of employers (52%) dock workers’ pay when extreme weather conditions prevent them from coming to work.

These are the findings according to a poll by health and safety experts, Croner.

Met Office predictions forecast one of the coldest winters for a decade and with this in mind Croner is advising employers to put adverse weather policies in place to confirm the position.

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, says: “Despite the very worst weather conditions, every employee has a contract with their employer to show up for work each day. Although not a legal requirement, having a well-communicated adverse weather policy in place could help in certain situations to avoid conflict or confusion should an employee be late or fail to attend work altogether as a result of bad weather.”

Smith is urging bosses to consider ‘fairer’ options to placate the need to dock pay. Home-working or making up the time at a later date are suggested alternatives.

Lack of disability awareness training will cost
Employers may wind up in the dock and face paying out thousands of pounds because they have neglected the need for basic disability awareness training.

These are the findings according to Maurice Price, managing director of the Disability Resource Team (DRT).

Price warns that despite high-profile campaigns by the government designed to create awareness of the new provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA) coming into force between now and December 2006, thousands of businesses are still ill-prepared.

Commenting, Price said: “Combined with the introduction of unlimited discrimination payments and solicitors now in line to take action against those who do not comply, the need for organisations to ensure their staff are ‘disability aware’ has never been more pressing.”

And according to the DRT more cases were taken to Tribunal under the employment provisions of the DDA in its first year than there were of the Sex Discrimination Act or the Race Relations Act in their first years.

Construction loses out in pay stakes
Transport and communication sector pay rises have knocked builders who enjoyed a five year stint at the top from their number one ‘pay’ position.

In their annual pay survey, IRS Employment Review reveal that many sectors pay remains unchanged bar the UK’s textile sector which has seen major shifts. And according to number crunchers IRS the change is a direct result of the 7.8% hike in the minimum wage.

In the past, settlements in this sector have generally lagged behind those for the economy as a whole. In the 12 months to 31 August 2005, however, the median basic pay award in textiles was 3% – the same as the median for the whole economy.

IRS Pay and Benefits editor, Sheila Attwood said:

“Most people won’t be surprised that the majority of pay increases have remained at 3% across a variety of sectors. The transport and communication sector, which covers road and rail passenger transport, logistics, communications and postal services, has, however managed to buck the trend. It has been boosted by several above-inflation deals in the rail and road haulage industries over the past year.

“During the past 12 months, there has been a distinct shift towards higher pay deals than in the previous year. Looking ahead, however, we expect to see the trend reversed with UK pay rises smaller in size; headline inflation is a key factor in this slowed-down growth.”

Brokers boost learning uptake
Learning brokers – who act as matchmakers between individuals and organisations providing education or training – play a vital role encouraging the ‘education-shy’ to get involved in learning, according to a report by the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA).

Understanding learning brokerage states that learning brokers, such as union learning reps, personal advisers and Learndirect, can not only increase demand, participation and success among non-traditional adult learners, but also help training organisations to make courses more accessible and engaging.

According to the report, brokers can also persuade employers to take workforce skills seriously by “clearing a way through the thicket of the education system to the college or training provider that best suits their clients’ needs”.

It calls for a strengthening of advice and guidance services within the workplace and the community. It also stresses that the impact of brokerage can be limited by organisational factors, workplace relations and conflicts of interest.

Darshan Sachdev, LSDA research manager, said: “Learning brokers can help to sell the benefits of education and training and change the way that it is provided. It is particularly effective at engaging the “hard to reach” – people with little contact with education or training since leaving school, both in the community and the workplace. But to be really effective, brokers must be totally impartial.”

Microsoft unveils new certification framework
Microsoft has announced a new certification framework that targets specific job roles and aims to be more closely aligned to IT professionals’ career development.

This new generation of qualifications will have two levels of identification: the credential area and certification area:

The certification area will identify the area of expertise the professional has achieved such as a database administrator or web developer.

Ram Dhaliwal, Microsoft manager for training and certification, said that the new system was in response to feedback from Microsoft training partners and customers and aimed to make the certifications easier to understand for hiring managers.

For more on this story see: TrainingZONE

Capital One graduates in online learning
Capital One Bank’s European arm has launched a Corporate University offering a range of courses, online training and learning events to its 2,500 UK workforce and 18,000 globally based staff.

The University is based on the success of its US operation where library resource usage grew by 102% in 2004 and 82% of employees found the programme beneficial.

According to the financial services firm a wide variety of courses are available together with training to ensure the company’s compliance with regulation such as the Consumer Credit Act.

Siobhan Sheridan, Head of Capital One University, commented: “The University demonstrates our commitment to our employees’ continuous learning and development and we have been pleased by its reception in America. In the UK, we expect it will enable Capital One to develop the broad organisational skills necessary for continued business success.”

New EOC Chair announced
Alan Johnson, Trade and Industry Secretary of State has announced the appointment of Jenny Watson as the Chair of the Equal Opportunities.

Watson who has been Acting Chair since July 2005 said the post would be a ‘privilege as well as a great responsibility.’

“On the thirtieth anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act, the need to keep sex equality at the top of the political agenda is as pressing as ever before. Our statutory powers to research and investigate sex discrimination, as well as to take legal cases and lead a debate on sex equality, make us a powerful force,” she said.

Of Watson’s selection Johnson said: “I am confident that under Jenny’s leadership the Commission will continue to be an influential force.”

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